It doesn’t seem like anybody is very happy with the result of the Wyoming State Legislature’s Special Session…but it ended up being the ultimate victory for small government.
When the dust settled, the legislature had drafted and passed a really big bill that actually did very little, and we should probably be grateful. I’ve always thought Wyoming was committed to limiting the role any government (local, state or federal) should play in our lives, and I think the legislature honored that commitment.
Legislated opposition to federal mandates that invade our privacy and violate our individual rights was going to require state mandates that violated individual rights of businesses and property owners and posed additional threats to Wyoming’s employment freedom and claim to being a “right to work state.”
It was the perfect example of a “two wrongs don’t make a right” scenario, and as I read the bills being considered and listened to the debates I feared our freedoms could be threatened as much from Cheyenne as they could be from Washington D.C.
I was again reminded of a quote from the movie The Patriot, when Benjamin Martin (the character played by Mel Gibson) is speaking to the South Carolina Assembly about revolt:
“Why should I trade a tyrant three thousand miles away for 3,000 tyrants one mile away? An elected legislature can trample a man’s rights as easily as a King can.”
I’m often reminded of that quote when I watch the Wyoming State Legislature in action, and I was glad when the legislature resisted the urge to expand their own power, authority and responsibilities (not to mention expense) in response to a pandemic that is temporary — and drawing to a swift conclusion according to a growing number of sources.
That’s why I sympathize with those who were truly afraid of the session and viewed each day with trepidation. Fortunately in the end everybody was allowed to have their say and a multitude of viewpoints were represented, but the legislative body itself responded with admirable and rare restraint.
And as a bonus, it was interesting and entertaining enough that we were treated to a perfect example of “getting to see the sausage being made,” and are all probably a little more ready to get on with our lives — which is perhaps the truest measure of success when it comes to self-government.
It wasn’t always pretty when people across the entire political spectrum spoke to their beliefs and stood by them, but it was honest and courageous. A number of citizens participated as advocates and spectators, and the overwhelming majority of them treated the session and its primary players with proper respect and reverence, and that is cause for celebration as well.
In fact, I’m pretty sure that history will treat the session and all its participants favorably for playing their respective roles with dignity and respect (mostly) while also advocating passionately for their own ideals — and the wide range of beliefs represented by their various constituencies. It really was a pretty damn good example of democracy in action, and from my perspective it was one of the more honest and memorable displays of the inner workings of Wyoming state government that we’ve been treated to in recent memory.
And when they were done making the sausage, we were left with something everybody could swallow — even if nobody really enjoyed the taste — and sometimes that is the most you can reasonably expect from government. That was probably the case here.
The legislature essentially empowered (and financed) the governor of Wyoming to oppose a federal mandate (see big government) by every legal means necessary. It is an appropriate and measured response by one branch of state government seeking to work in concert with the other two branches of state government to oppose federal overreach (see the Constitutions), and it was a compromise designed to present the best expression of unity, in both purpose and belief, against an outside threat.
It also didn’t require state government to infringe on the rights of one set of citizens to protect the rights of another set of citizens by making it clear that the State of Wyoming’s fight is with the federal government – not with its own citizens.
If we are indeed to begin preparing for life after the pandemic, the best thing we could possibly do right now is stop sticking it to each other in our disagreements over anything regarding the pandemic. Last week’s legislation is a pretty good example of that, and the level of care and restraint that went into it is something we will all be grateful for in the not too distant future.
Bob Bonnar is the publisher of the News Letter Journal in Newcastle, Wyoming. He is a former president of the Wyoming Press Association and a former lobbyist for open meetings, education and small business interests.